KANATA, Ontario — Given his choice, Alain Vigneault would have yanked just about every Ranger off the ice. That was impossible, and it was too late, anyway. So he did the next- best thing: He stopped the words coming out of his own mouth before they grew worse. Exasperated, he made a few barbed comments before telling reporters, “Thanks. I’m outta here.”
He walked off, having made the point that the Rangers never were really “in” here. They started shakily and ended poorly Sunday, losing to the reeling Senators, 3-0, and halting their momentum as abruptly as the coach ended his remarks.
It was another sign for a team that finally had won back-to-back games for the first time since November that momentum is as inscrutable as the weather. All logic pointed to a big game for the Rangers, coming off two victories, against a team that seemed anxious after losing to the Devils and Islanders. But Vigneault has seen this act too often.
“Every time we think we’re building a little bit of momentum, we come up with one of these. Other than Hank and Quickie,” he said, referring to Henrik Lundqvist and Jesper Fast, “we had so many guys who were off their game, it was unbelievable. We were on the outside the whole night. Just didn’t have a good game at all.
“I keep saying that it’s a competitive league, there’s not much separating teams. If you don’t come out and execute and play on top of your game, you get what we got tonight. We got blown out 3-0.”
The score could well have been 3-0 in the first four minutes if not for Lundqvist bailing out the Rangers. “If you would have asked me if this group was ready to come out and execute and play hard, I would have said without a doubt,” Vigneault said. “We came out and turned it over three times and gave them Grade A scoring chances right down the middle there. It’s tough to understand.”
A possible explanation: The storm kept the Rangers from flying out of North Carolina on Friday night — when they were flying high after a 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes — and prevented them from having a scheduled practice here Saturday.
Did that hurt? “You’d have to ask the guys. I take care of my own preparation,” Lundqvist said. “I think it’s a mindset.”
Their mindset might have been completely different afterward had the Rangers broken a scoreless tie toward the middle of the second period. With Craig Anderson out of his crease, Fast slid the puck in front, perfectly setting up Kevin Hayes, but he fanned on it.
Bobby Ryan, who had called out his Senators teammates on Friday, changed the tone for good when he slammed in a rebound with 19.9 seconds left in the second period. Mike Hoffman converted a two-on-one at 2:40 of the third, Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored shorthanded into an empty net at 17:38, Anderson (35 saves) got his shutout and the Rangers got angst.
“When you play 82 games a year, you’re going to have those nights,” Dan Boyle said. “Tonight was one of those nights when our execution was way, way off. You could tell right from the drop of the puck.”
They are grateful to have a chance to wipe it out of their minds with a home game Monday night against the Sabres. But as of last night, Vigneault had the last word. “I thought we were getting somewhere,” he said. “Then we come up with this.”
With that, he was out of there.